God Between the Covers
I've been a bit less bloggish lately, what with the Penn State bowl game---Beth made fondue and we ate around the TV!---and then the next evening's Rose Bowl game. I was exhausted for days! And this from a fellow who rarely watches sports. My beloved is a Penn State fan, though, and JoePa is quite the icon around here. So it was a good couple of evenings, with no muse for book reviewing showing up anywhere.
But now, I've been struck. I have been ignoring a book for months because I knew once I picked it up, I would read it in nearly one sitting. The feared paperback is by an author who I want to know, and, truly, I've oddly avoided this little book. And it is true: once I opened this thing, I was hooked. Marcia Ford, who wrote with such charm in Memoirs of a Misfit: Finding My Place in the Family of God about her journey into and out of various streams of evangelical faith and charismatic renewal, is the author, and the book is a basically her spiritual memoir by way of the books she loves. It is called God Between the Covers: Finding Faith Through Reading (Crossroad; $19.95.) I suspect I may blog a bit about this again, because there is much to appreciate here and she may be my new patron saint. She tells of various stages in her faith journey, how thrilled (or rescued or enlightened or glad) she was upon discovering certain authors. Her reviews are not substantial but---rather like my style here--she tries to get at the heart of the book, why it is important, what it means to her, and why you should consider it. These are not New York Review of Books essays or Books & Culture pieces or critiques of the sort one would find at the New Pantagruel. They are brief, whimsical, autobiographical. But--with a few minor exceptions (hey grant the girl her taste)-- she is dead on.
Where else do you find reviews of authors such as Thomas a Kempis and Anne Lamot (in an essay about why so many popular authors she likes have names like Anne, Ann, Annie), Francis & Edith Schaeffer and Basic Pennington; Oswald Chambers and Fyodor Dostoyevsky; Wendell Berry and Sheldon Vanauken? And a piece on Bruce Cockburn?? Ms Ford co-wrote a pretty nice book on Dylan, too, by the way (Restless Pilgrim released by relevant) so Zimmy is the other musician whose work is granted an entry here.
Her introductory chapter is a wonderful autobiographical reflection on her love of books, her addiction to book buying, her experience with bad schools and good authors, her book-cluttered house with stacks of books everywhere. I love it! Her later reflections include very brief reviews of serious theologians (Rowan Williams, say) social criticism (the black lit of the '60's like Malcolm X, James Baldwin and King, or the emergent church movement seen in Len Sweet or Brian McLaren) plenty of wonderful novels, provocative kids books, spiritual formation stuff (from the obvious like Brennen Manning, Richard Foster, Henri Nouwan to important lights such as Merton or Keating.) Each make this just the kind of book I would love to have our customers have.
There are some important things missing that are important to us (she does list my old housemate Bill Romanowski and his must-read book Eyes Wide Open: Finding God in Popular Culture so there is at least a nod to the neo-Calvinist world and life view approach of distinctive cultural engagement) and despite her often-mentioned disillusionment with simple answers of the Christian right, she doesn't describe books by authors like Sider, Wallis, Perkins and the ESA orbit, let alone Berrigan, Stringfellow, Ellul or Yoder. Other key books that I would hope she knows by Os Guinness, certainly, or James Sire, even haven't apparantly helped her along the way they did me.
Her mini-reviews of novels---Peace Like a River, A Separate Peace, Life of Pi, Poisonwood Bible, just for instance---are splendid, but how could she leave out...or...well, you get the picture.
Her love of books is contagious. Her descriptions are delightful. Her odd little observations---the poor print job of Merton's No Man Is An Island or how she confuses a Robert Frost poem and a particular James Taylor song, or how Oswald Chambers could have single-handedly put an end to the "marlarkey" of recent tele-evangelists---is a hoot and a half. The way in which she tells of her own life as she tells of these books helps me recall not only why I love books, but why we sell 'em. Get this book for every church library or ministry resource-center you know. Use it as a guide if you feel a bit uninformed, or pass it on to those who would be blessed by it.
If I can add my own not-so-quirky observation: as a thin paperback, it seems a bit overpriced.* And the cover with the slightly open lap top tenting over a book is too symbolic for its own good. Still: this is a book I wish I could have described in my book of the year listings last month. It is that good. Consider it awarded.
*TO OVERCOME THIS MATTER, BookNotes here offers a blogsite discount. Email us at firstname.lastname@example.org or use our order form here, and we will give you a 25% off discount. The regular price is $19.95 is---for you, dear booklover---$15.00. Happy Reading.